Boston LISC Staff blog

Innovation for Impact

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The work of the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits is featured in an article in today's Boston Globe.  The article entitled "Grants help nonprofits to help themselves"  can be found here.

Boston LISC is a partner in the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits with The Boston Foundation, The Hyams Foundation, The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Merrimack Valley, and the Nonprofit Finance Fund, which manages the Catalyst Fund.

The Catalyst Fund was officially launched in the fall of 2010 and is intended to support efforts by nonprofit organizations to work in partnership with other organizations or in some cases to merge all with the goal of greater impact and effectiveness.

I am please that two of the three efforts featured in the Globe article involve community development corporations.  The creation of a Family Economic Center led by Chelsea Neighborhood Developers with a number of partners is described.  This effort will integrate opportunities to build skills and connect to employment with financial education and asset building.

The Boston Globe also features an effort by the Allston Brighton CDC and Urban Edge Housing Corporation to create a shared asset management entity.  The goal of this work is to increase the long term health of their rental housing portfolio and hence its impact in the community.  Both of these efforts are serious efforts to increase impact by doing things in a new way.

Both LISC and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations can take credit for working to foster a climate that supports innovative projects through the work of the Community Development Innovation Forum over the last three years. The working group on CDC collaboration generated ideas that are now being implemented with the support of the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits. 


Green Redevelopment is Good Business

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If you were writing a news article about a green redevelopment of an affordable housing complex, which section of the paper would you put it in? The Boston Globe chose the Business section. Read the article here.

Castle Square, the 500-apartment complex in the South End, is going green! A huge undertaking, it will receive comprehensive energy efficiency and mechanical upgrades to achieve a whopping 72% energy savings. But why the Business section of the newspaper?

Perhaps it’s because using innovative technologies, such as solar-powered hot water systems and super-insulation, together with common sense, like sealing air leaks and installing energy efficient appliances, isn’t just something for tree-huggers. It’s good business.

In fact, much of a typical “green redevelopment” is intuitive – why use more energy than you have to? However, a building is a complex system and formulating a plan to make that system function in the best possible way can be truly challenging. Kudos to the Castle Square Tenants Organization for pursuing a long-term strategy to keep operating costs low and decrease energy use. I look forward to seeing the new Castle Square!


If Our Field is Evolving, So Should Our Communications

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February 2, 2011: A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota about the importance of successful communications. Nora, our facilitator stressed the fact that communications shouldn’t be an after-thought and that it was important for all nonprofit organizations, including those focused on community development, to communicate their impact to the broader public. I think that sometimes we assume that the public knows about the great work that we’re doing and that isn’t necessarily the case.

One of the more interesting parts of the conversation came when Nora asked each of to talk about affordable housing. As community development practitioners, we described vibrant mixed-use communities, mentioned issues of gentrification, and stressed the importance of affordable housing to preserve diverse communities. Nora agreed with us but then showed a picture of what the general public thought affordable housing was: a large, blighted housing project riddled with graffiti and abandoned apartments. This was an eye-opening moment for each of us. We can’t assume that people know what we do, and need to think creatively about how we describe our work.

We’re always seeking to improve our communications and think creatively about how we talk about our work among wide range of stakeholders. Community development is changing and we, as practitoners, need to change the way we talk about it.

Our facilitator was from Community Media Workshop. Check them out - they do great work.


Linking Energy Efficiency to Green Jobs

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November 16, 2010: I recently attended the national conference of the Opportunity Finance Network, an organization of community development financial institutions in San Francisco.  The most interesting new idea that I learned about was a program that provides both financing for energy efficiency improvements and financing and training for contractors and workers who will undertake the improvements.  Enterprise Cascadia, a community development financial institution operating in the Pacific Northwest, began the program in Oregon  under the name Clean Energy Works/Portland in partnership with the City of Portland and is now expanding the program in Washington State.  Enterprise Cascadia received one of two major Next Awards from Wachovia Wells Fargo to help grow their program.  Congratulations to our colleagues at Boston Community Capital who received the other major Next award for their Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods (SUN) initiative to keep homeowners in their homes.

Among the innovative features of the Enterprise Cascadia energy efficiency loan program is that the underwriting for the loan and the repayment of the loan utilize the utility company relationship to the homeowner.  The utility payment record is a primary underwriting factor and the repayment of the loan is through the utility bill.  This closely marries the expected savings from the improvements to the costs of the improvements.  There is a strong commitment to serving low income as well as middle income residents with the program as articulated by Enterprise Cascadia director John Berdes.

 Enterprise Cascadia is also providing financing for the contractors who are doing the energy improvements.  Credit advances are available for contractors participating in the program of up to $100,000.  In addition to the financing for contractors, Enterprise Cascadia has partnered a local community college and a CAP agency, Community Action Team, to develop a training program for contractors in how to do the weatherization work.   The local Small Business Development Center is also providing technical assistance to the contractors.

 This program is one of the best examples I have heard about in bringing together the effort to make homes more energy efficient with jobs that can be created in energy efficiency. You can learn more about the program and watch an excellent short video about the program by going to Enterprise Cascadia's web site at






New York Times Article on Bed Bugs Cites Work of Allston Brighton CDC

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September 2, 2010:

As I mentioned last week in a blog entry about the recent Boston Globe editorial, the Allston Brighton CDC, working with the Boston Inspectional Services Department, has been leading the way in terms of community response to the problem of bed bugs.  Today the New York Times has an article that describes the work that the Allston Brighton CDC has done on September 1st for the past several years in partnership with Boston's Inspectional Services Department to stop the spread of bed bugs through people collecting discarded furniture on the street. You can find the article here.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the convergence of public health and community development on the importance of place for health outcomes.  Here is a concrete example of how a community development organization has organized and acted on a public health issue.  


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